North by Northwest

NorthbyNorthwestSuggested by Brad Nelson • A hapless New York advertising executive is mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and is pursued across the country while he looks for a way to survive. Along the way he meets the beautiful and dangerous Eva Marie Saint.
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11 Responses to North by Northwest

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Visually this movie is rather pleasing. Hitchcock makes use of a lot of relatively exotic and interesting locations, including the wonderful device of train travel. I read where Hitch had only three things in mind before even attempting a script: A case of mistaken identity, the United Nations building, and a chase scene across the faces of Mt. Rushmore.

    Would Jimmy Stewart or Gregory Peck have been better than Cary Grant? Sophia Loren instead of Eva Marie Saint? Well, Peck could never have delivered the comedic lines in such thriller circumstances as Grant did. But there’s little doubt Jimmy Stewart would have been a good fit. But I think Eva Marie Saint was surely the right choice. Although her character and situation are barely fleshed out, she wonderfully plays a woman who is both beautiful and potentially treacherous.

    This is not a movie I cared much about when I was younger. But I’ve come to like it. My favorite Hitchcock films remains “Rear Window.” And this isn’t even #2 on the list. But it’s a nice film.

    Modern audiences (as one can tell by the generally inane comments at IMDB) likely couldn’t appreciate the Hitchcockian building of tension, especially the iconic crop-duster scene. And few could spare the time to harvest the visual riches of VanDamm’s home (a set based on the work of Frank Lloyd Wright).

    This is a movie heavy on style as opposed today’s more vulgar and juvenile inclination. Surely I did not fully appreciate this movie in my 20’s because one has to actually be an adult to do so. The film depends upon an emotional and mental association with everyman Cary Grant getting caught up into a situation not of his design. Few could handle it with the aplomb of Grant, but that’s why this movie is so interesting. We see the manly excellence of a hero on display — and one who (spoiler alert) gets the girl.

    Modern movies have generally wimped out on the hero elements. And if the screen isn’t filled every moment with cars crashing and bullets flying, modern audiences get bored. In many ways, therefore, North by Northwest is a tonic for our times. With garbage and cheap thrills (as opposed to stylish thrills) becoming the standard, it’s worth stepping back and looking at quality.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Hitchcock’s rough idea behind the crop-duster sequence was to have the character out in an open field and a tornado springs up out of nowhere. The crop-duster was a great improvement. (William Goldman discusses this in one of his books, though he wasn’t the screenwriter on this one.)

      Of course, that doesn’t seem to have been Van Damm’s house; it presumably belonged to the guy who was speaking at the UN. One of Van Damm’s men was the gardener who presumably moonlighted as a hired thug before being killed on Mount Rushmore. (The other kidnapper presumably flew the crop-duster, since he isn’t seen after that.)

      This was the first Hitchcock movie I ever saw. (Psycho had just shown up at outdoor theater in the American Club when we arrived in Kifissia in 1961, and my brother wanted to see it — but my mother wouldn’t let him.) Perhaps because of that, it remains a favorite. And Man From U.N.C.L.E. fans will appreciate the appearance of Leo G. Carroll aka Alexander Waverly, who had appeared in some previous Hitchcock films.)

      Rear Window is a very good movie, but I think The Man Who Knew Too Much (the remake with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day) is even better. (“I’m sorry we were gone so long, folks, but we had to go over and pick up Hank.”) Of course, I generally prefer the Jimmy Stewart movies; Rope and Vertigo are also excellent movies. I heartily recommend them all.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Yes the crop-duster is a major improvement over the tornado. The crop-duster is a little impractical as a murder device but at least it can be consciously steered, unlike a tornado. And it’s a cool way to do it.

        Vandamm’s (James Mason’s) Frank Lloyd Wright look-alike house was the one supposedly set at the top of Mount Rushmore (it was a set). The one he was occupying in the country estate (not at all FLW-like but a nice mansion all the same) was the one he “borrowed.”

        Besides Waverly, IMDB trivia noted that two other spy-related actors were in this: The Chief from “Get Smart” and Martin Landau from “Mission Impossible.”

        I’ll have to give a viewing to “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” I had tried a couple years ago and either got bored or moved onto something else. “Rope” is unquestionably a great film. And I don’t remember too much about “Vertigo.”

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I should have remembered Landau, since he plays Van Damm’s top assistant. Platt’s role as the lawyer is a minor one (though I definitely recognized him), so it’s easier to forget him. An interesting cross-show linkage came at the end of a Wild, Wild West episode, one of those in which Ross Martin (Artemus Gordon) was unavailable. West’s sidekick in this one was played by the guy who played the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island. At the end, he says he plans to take a vacation all alone on a desert island (a life-long dream) as the GI theme music plays briefly.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I probably could have watched this movie ten times and not got that Landau was a homosexual, despite the “feminine intuition” crack. I know there are those oddball types out there who look for queer in anything and everything…and find it. I never understood that. I have queer blind, if anything.

            But who was his “partner,” Capt. Nemo? With that hottie Eva Marie Saint within touching distance?

            Anyway, that movie was back in the good old days when being homosexual was something that all decent people hid, if they practiced it at all. And Landau was a villain. Probably couldn’t happen today. All homosexuals have to be portrayed as good. It’s the new Code. It’s the new sort of Black List. Pink List?

            Speaking of the Skipper, his father (Alan Hale) has been in a couple Bogie movies that I’ve watched lately. No question of the parentage there.

  2. Glenn Fairman says:

    I just could not leave out the best tribute to Hitchcock: “High Anxiety.” One of my favorites…..

    • Timothy Lane says:

      There are a lot of lovely scenes in that, and one of the best is his parody of the shower scene from Psycho, including the ink from the newspaper going down the drain. The parody of the school attack in The Birds has its moments, too, and in its way is more realistic.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Funny funny movie, Glenn. I can still hear the way Cloris Leachman says “Dis-tuurrbbed.” I’ll have to queue that one up again sometime.

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